Mental Health

Diet and Mood

by Staff

Everybody knows you are what you eat, but for some reason, most of us don’t connect that old adage with how we feel. Your body and your mind are both parts of you, so of course what you eat doesn’t just affect your health, it also affects your mental state.

If you already eat well and you’re still feeling low, you might be deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, or perhaps you’re depriving yourself of some things. Of course, proper nutrition alone isn’t always the answer to low moods or depression but using food to improve your mood is something easy to do that you can try on your own, either before you call in the expert, or in conjunction with professional care.

How Food Influences Mood
In order for your brain to communicate with your body, it needs chemicals called neurotransmitters to conduct electrical impulses, or brain waves. You may have heard of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, endorphins, glutamine and serotonin. Your body has to manufacture these chemicals and it uses the enzymes, amino acids, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, proteins and carbohydrates in the foods that you eat to do that. If you’re not eating enough – or enough of the right foods – for your body to manufacture sufficient amounts of these chemicals, depression or anxiety can be the result.

Another diet mistake that will lead to low moods is allowing your blood sugar, or glycemic index, to rise and fall throughout the day. Skipping meals can make your blood sugar fall too low, while eating starchy, sugary foods, or simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries, can make your blood sugar too high. This can do funny things to a person’s mood, making them irritable, forgetful or sad.

Craving carbohydrates may also be an attempt to self-medicate depression by raising serotonin levels. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for sleep, appetite and mood.

Eating for Mental Well-Being
Nutrition is central to your mental well-being. Here are some quick tips for keeping your diet in line with your mental health:

  • In order to keep your blood sugar steady, eat small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. Skipping breakfast will likely mean you’re still hungry at the end of the day, when you should stop eating in order to prepare for sleep.
  • Don’t follow any extreme low fat diets. You need some fat to keep your brain working and your mood up. Make sure your diet plan includes healthy, monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil and fatty fish, instead of saturated fats, like the kind found in butter and fast foods.
  • Make fresh fruits and vegetables a central part of a healthy diet. Getting enough vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin C and zinc is essential for your body to manufacture serotonin.
  • If you’re feeling low, try eating a meal with a food containing the amino acid tryptophan, such as chicken or turkey breast, or milk. Add a carb to your meal, such as a whole grain roll, to help your body absorb the tryptophan more efficiently.
  • Limit your consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
  • Don’t follow any diet where you cut out an entire food group, such as the Atkins diet.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of exercise daily. Exercise helps reduce the severity of anxiety disorder symptoms, such as anxiety attacks.

Comfort Foods
Have you ever noticed how certain smells can make you remember events from your past? Maybe every time you smell a roasting turkey you’re eight years old and back in your grandmother’s kitchen, or a certain perfume will remind you of an old friend. Well, your senses of taste and smell are tied together too – try eating different foods with your nose plugged sometime, it’s just not the same. Eating certain foods is comforting to us because they’re tied to happy memories.

Common comfort foods are food commonly associated with childhood; macaroni and cheese, or chocolate cake. These foods also tend to be starchy, and sometimes high in sugar. While it’s generally recommended that you try to avoid these types of foods, if you find yourself craving them, it’s better to indulge, but with moderation. Trying to ignore your craving will usually lead to binging later on.


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